FARGO - Taylor Wall may sing like a diva, but she certainly doesn’t act like one. After being named winner of the Fargo Star competition Saturday night, the 17-year-old Breckenridge, Minn., high school junior was a study of sweetness and genuine modesty.
“I never thought I could have won. I’m in shock,” said Wall, sporting a rock-god mane of gold hair and dressed in a spangly, black, off-the-shoulder top. “It’s so sad. I wish everyone could win.”
But everyone couldn’t, especially after Wall nearly burned down the house with a commanding rendition of the Pat Benatar rock classic “Heartbreaker.”
Wall had no qualms about performing a song that was a hit long before she was born.
“I love any genre, any time. Pat Benatar has such an amazing voice, and she sings with so much emotion,” she said.
Her selection impressed judges like Tracy Briggs, who confessed to listening to “Heartbreaker” on cassette tape in the ’80s.
“Breckenridge, my gosh, you’ve been hiding this girl from us,” said Briggs, digital content development director for Forum Communications.
“It must suck to have that much talent at 17,” quipped another judge, WDAY radio personality Christopher Gabriel. He added that he’d seen Benatar perform, and that Wall’s rendition easily matched the original performer’s “sass and sex appeal.”
Wall’s powerful pipes even held their own against the big horns and dynamic sound of the backing band, Post Traumatic Funk Syndrome, at The Venue. This is the first time in the six-year history of the Forum-sponsored singing competition that the contestants sang with live musicians.
And Wall was certainly buoyed by one of the contest’s largest and most enthusiastic cheering sections, which co-host Kerstin Kealy joked must have contained most of Breckenridge.
When Wall was crowned the winner, a group of “Wall-flowers” practically stormed the stage. Many were teen-agers, dressed in hand-painted T-shirts that read “Taylor Gang or Die.”
The daughter of a musical family, Wall has already established herself as an accomplished songbird in her hometown. She fronts a rock band called Team, whose members “worship” musicians like Adele and Paramore.
Second-place honors went to Chris Ashmore, a 32-year-old Moorhead resident/former Fargo Star finalist who belted out “Second Chance” by Shinedown.
“That song had such a wide range, and he nailed it all the way through,” said John Lamb, judge/Forum Variety writer.
Ashmore was one of three siblings to compete in the evening’s competition. His sisters, Mehgan Ashmore, 24, and Steph Palanuk, 25, were also among the contest’s 10 finalists, making the event a family affair.
“There’s something in the water at the Ashmores,” joked Jenna Oestreich, judge and 2011 Fargo Star winner.
Third-place honors went to Kennedy Kiser, another 17-year-old, who attends Fargo North. Kiser performed a lilting, nuanced rendition of Pink’s “Glitter in the Air.”
After a night of big voices and big performances, Kiser’s delicately understated approach worked for her, Gabriel said.
“You went the other way and handled it so beautifully,” he said.
As for Wall, her Fargo Star prize will include airfare to either “American Idol” or “The Voice” auditions and an opening gig for Javier Colon when he performs at the Fargo Theatre on March 13.
Although her winnings could bring her closer to the big time, Wall remains fairly grounded about it all.
“I’m more of a realist, I guess,” she said. “I just want to do what I can and have fun.”
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Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525